Listening Assignments 3.31.08

1. Joan of Arc - A Tell-Tale Penis - ...pause. Take a second to get over the title. Better? Tim Kinsella is as inventive and avant-garde as ever, but this new acoustic-led sound brings a refreshing twist to the usually-noisy Kinsella brother. [from Boo Human (out 5.29)|buy]

2. Mates of State - The Nature and the Wreck - This piano dances dizzy circles around me, like crispy leaves in the first winds of winter. See, MoS are more than just twee-flavored poprocks. They have loved and lost as well. They have seen new growth on the forest floor. [from Bring it Back|buy]

3. Adele - Hometown Glory - This South London-accent thing is getting tired in places, but mainstream airwaves are still gobbling it up. Not that Adele should be ashamed of it, she can sing her little ass off. This song simply kills. (watch her bring it live while playing it on guitar) [from 19|buy]

4. Redbird - Ships - I could listen to any tune Jeffrey Foucault contributes his considerable vocal chops to, but this single-mic living room folk jam between three friends is as alive as the blood pumping around the corners of your body right now. Can't you hear it thrum? [from Redbird|buy]


The Elbow's connected to the...


We all know the benefits of having an Elbow. It allows you to bring food to your mouth via a helpful little hinge. If it's especially pointy, it doubles as a weapon to ward off pickpockets and vampire nuns. A lucky few of us have excess skin hanging off of it, numb to the touch, thick and leathery. I'd bite it if I could. But I can't, so I won't.

This particular Elbow is very adept at writing long songs that don't seem long (there is only one below 4:00). Skilled at weaving a beautiful tapestry of rock and Peter Gabriel-esque vocals. This Elbow is from across the pond and probably enjoys toast, tea, and the Queen. Lyrically profound, this Elbow is more than just an arm-enabler. This Elbow is about to make your fist pump.

"We took the town to town last night. We kissed like we invented it."

Some Riot
[from The Seldom Seen Kid|buy]


The Winston Jazz Routine

Yes. You there. Don't move. Prepare to be moved. Prepare to be fitted for wings. Prepare to be lighter than ash in an updraft. The Winston Jazz Routine is fixing to start fixing the parts of you that have long been broken. Because you deserve clarity. And you deserve to be happy. And you deserve love.

A Ghost Beneath the Tower
[from Sospiri|buy]

You might also remember them from the amazing Peace on Earth compilation.


Not a Modest Mockery

Mock Orange has traveled many places, musically and physically, to get to your ears today. 2000's The Record Play is essential early-emo (god, that word has changed) listening, reflecting the angular and angsty sentiments of bands like Braid and Hey Mercedes. The status and critical success of that album ("Perfect albums don't come around very often, but this is the closest we've heard in a long time." -Alternative Press), coupled with the radically different sound of their latest LP Captain Love, has resulted in the typical internet hubbub about "selling out" and "I only liked their early stuff" and "they're copying Modest Mouse." Unfortunately if you're a band in the indie community you're never allowed to change, instead only pandering to the niche fans you gained early on. 2004's Mind is Not Brain is actually the "missing" link between these two sounds, bridging early 00's indie with more pop sensibility and hooks. It helps to explain how Mock Orange can occasionally sound similar to Modest Mouse (who have transformed similarly over the same time period).

So the Evansville, Indiana band was satisfied to release their new record in Japan last September instead of here (late April US Release). Japan seems to love them, perhaps embracing them for the very changes that makes some fans shun them here. The same fans that probably can't appreciate new Modest Mouse for what it is instead of dismissing it for what it isn't.

Majestic Raincoat
[from Captain Love|import. good luck.]
[from Mind is Not Brain|buy]
Nothing to Write
[from The Record Play|buy]


Warm for the Forms

My copy of The Forms eponymous 2007 release finally arrived yesterday and general giddiness followed. The Steve Albini-produced record is exactly what I hoped it would be: stellar. The longest track is 3:51, with most hovering between the easy to swallow 2:20-3:10 range. These poppy emo gems are like rock candy. Nostalgic, jagged and sweet. I'm half-upset that I missed out on it last year and half-intending to put qualify it for my '08 year-end lists anyway. At worst, I'll do a feature on "the things I missed in 2008" and include Miracle Fortress as well.

F'real though, qualm: Steve, couldn't you have made the drummer play a different part on "Redgun" than the one he plays on the fantastic opener ("Knowledge in Hand")? I really thought I was listening to the same song again, though I still loved it.

I can't wait to see these guys April 5th in Harrisonburg, VA for Macrock. Feature on that coming in the next few days...

[from The Forms|buy]


Listening Assignments 3.24.08

1. R.E.M. - Supernatural Superserious - Whodathunk it? R.E.M. making another musically relevant rock record after all this time. This song is all over the radio (as it should be) and isn't the only great track on the album either. Welcome back. [from Accelerate|buy]

2. Devotchka - Transliterator - The darlings from Little Miss Sunshine's soundtrack (and a lot more before that) are back with another typically strong offering. This be one of the more even-keeled offerings, a playful keyboard riff alongside a rapidly-panning vocal performance. The strings are especially well-placed. [from A Mad & Faithful Telling|buy]

3. Ane Brun - Ten Seconds - You can't go wrong with Ane Brun. Her bird-like vibrato slices through layers of clouds and lets in piercing stabs of sunlight. [from Changing of the Seasons|buy]

4. Gillian Welch - The Way it Will Be (link removed at the request of Acony Records. They weren't cool with a publicly-broadcasted live performance from 4 years ago being "out there yet". Gotcha.) - Seeing Gillian live (as always, with David Rawlings) was one of the best concert experiences of my life. The theatre was pin-drop-quiet, the voices and guitars completely and impossibly fused as one, swirling around ears and up stairs, into hearts, out open mouths. [live in London 2.8.04]


Rifle Recoil

Happy Easter everyone.

I took in a show at the Boot in Norfolk on Friday and this fella blew me away. He appears fairly unassuming. Tallish with an explosion of red hair. Shy looking. He sits down with a guitar and a looping machine and proceeds to construct these echoing soundscapes of harmony and guitar parts and beat-boxed drums occasionally. Then he sang over top of it, pure molassas and honey. And the crowd goes wild.

[from Lion EP|buy]
[from demo|myspace]

and here he is playing the part of Wolverine in a home video for Sufjan Stevens' song of the same title. classic.


Colour and Sound

It's time. Whenever you read this, it will also be the time. It was time last week when the digital version of Colour Revolt's new record became available. It'll be time again when the physical copy drops on April Fool's Day. That time will never change because it always will be now.

Time to abandon all hope. To write letters to loved ones and set out across the desert. Time to wear holes in the soles (and souls) of your boots. To get dirty, to grow a beard, to pound your fists on wooden tavern table tops. To chew straw, to chase a wild horse into the deltas of
Mississippi. To live. To die. To listen.

Enlightenment isn't for everyone. Sometimes you have to be empty to be filled.

What Will Come of Us?
Moses of the South
[from Plunder, Beg and Curse|buy]


Somewhere Over the Rhinebow

I finally picked up a copy of Over the Rhine's holy $h%t album The Trumpet Child, so I'm going to tell you about it. Then again, you might already know from Snow Angles or 2.25 or from the mouth of your musically inclined friend Wayne. Or maybe you ignored Wayne because he's a douchebag. This is your second chance.

Karin Bergquist possesses a voice she surely must have traded her soul for, blistering atop this frypan of a musical bed. The only voice I can compare it to right now is Amy Winehouse, but this is purer and more controlled. Less drug-addled. Less trying to be something she's not. Less about disappointment, more about redemption. I feel baptized listening to this record.

Playing @ the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, VA on April 11th.

The Trumpet Child
Nothing is Innocent
[from The Trumpet Child|buy]


The Hush Sound

There are a lot of bands towards which I desperately want to make the hush sound. Shhhhhhhhh. Thankfully Chicago's The Hush Sound is not one of those bands.

THS is a two-headed beast: Bob Morris and Greta Salpeter share vocals and (I'd assume) songwriting duties. The resulting 13 songs are incredibly catchy and artfully poppy, occasionally dabbling in Dissociatives territory, other times Joseph Arthur, Cold War Kids, or the Dresden Dolls. Greta has a really great voice, strong falsetto, and nimble piano fingers. The bouncy rhythms behind everything help to separate them from other bands that feature prominent keys. Bob's autotuned vocals just stand out as unnecessary. You can tell he's got a great voice, the songs are practically Supergrass pop when he's at the helm. Autotune just turns me off when it's used rampantly without cause. I like it best when they both sing, though most of these are just one or the other. Two instrumentals are beautiful and flowing, a nice break from the well-crafted pop surrounding them.

The Boys are Too Refined
[from Goodbye Blues|buy]


Listening Assignments 3.17.08

1. the Forms - Transmission - Holy jeez, this sounds like 1990s emo. And kids, emo wasn't such a dirty word back then. My ears are celebrating. Somehow, the Forms are getting away with making this music in 2008, a sound that could have opened for Sunny Day Real Estate back in the day. Just bought this, I'll review the whole thing when it comes in. [from The Forms|buy]

2. A Weather - Spiders, Snakes - This song is the whispering wind narrating your thoughts as you gaze past breaking gray waves from atop a dune. The birds hum along. It's a cold day at the beach. [from Cove|buy]

3. Cranes & Crows - So it Goes - I like real voices, though some people don't. Ben Folds, Eef Barzelay (Clem Snide), John Darnielle (Mountain Goats), John Sampson (Weakerthans), and Chris DuBray (Some By Sea/Ghosts & Liars). Some people hate these bands because of the vocals, or maybe because of the uncoolness that comes from sounding like a regular Joe with something to say. This song is right in my wheelhouse, and I guarantee you'll love the last minute and a half at the very least. [from Blame Winter|buy]

4. She & Him - Take it Back - I'll start by saying Zooey Deschanel is so freaking beautiful, it's criminal. She's got a nice, full, unique voice. And everyone loves M. Ward. Critics are fawning all over this record. But this perfectly-paced violin-and-slide-guitar-dripped ballad is one of only a few songs on it that I can listen to without cringing or being bored to tears. This is what the whole thing should have sounded like. There's this obnoxious reverb soaking most of the vocals and there are songs from genres I hoped had died with the release of Grease. Mostly I think I'm just frustrated because this concept is brilliant and I wanted to love it. Having Zooey sing songs that make her sound like Olivia Newton-John, Karen Carpenter, and June Carter Cash was not the way to go. But hey! You might love it! [from Volume One (out 3.18)|buy]


The Key

First off, thank you so much for all the e-mails and IMs and comments offering condolences at my grandfather's passing. Today was his "service" of sorts, more of a family lunch with a slide show and a few words. I was going to do the next entry of the Desert Island 10, but my spirits aren't quite up to it yet. So you get a musing and an accompanying song by Eef Barzelay that was hiding itself for just this occasion.

Death is just one of those things. Like a broken heart, it feels like things will never heal again. That no one could know what you're going through. But they can know. And things will heal. And when you look back, you see that it all fits. That love remains to fill the spaces.

Clem Snide - Fontanelle


Disjointed Dodos

The Dodos were never extinct, they just went crazy. Climbed into the hills and hid, in solitary self-confinement. Slowly, their reflections in pools of rain started to change. Their cave drawings became more and more abstract. They debated with themselves over the merits of evolution and the possible ramifications of global warming. Their brains had grown three sizes along with their heads. Fingers had developed on the ends of their flightless wings. They came down off the mountain, took up instruments, and have an album dropping on Frenchkiss this Tuesday. Darwin triumphs again.

The Season
[from Visiter (out 3.18)|buy]


The List of Right On

1. Oh. My. God. This is probably one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Will Arnett (Gob from Arrested Development) does a sextape with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. OMG. It's vulgar. And awesome.

2. Stuff White People Like - way too much hilarious stuff to get through in a day, my personal faves so far are T-Shirts, Hating Corporations, and The Idea of Soccer. (Thanks Jeff for both links! )

3. Said the Gramophone had a seriousy amazing contest that ended a week ago. User-submitted music videos to the songs of their choice. Hundreds of submissions were...ummm, submitted. The top 5 can be seen here and the rest of the top 15 here. This video for Joanna Newsom's "The Book of Right On" (still probably my favorite of hers) got #2, but was definitely my choice. If you aren't visiting StG daily, you're missing out.

4. Inexplicably, you can now buy Bacon, Egg and Cheese Combos at 7-11. Resist your curiosity, trust me. So gross.

Landon on the Moon

The unfortunately named Landon Pigg has now been in jewelry commercials and Grey's Anatomy. He's awfully good at sounding similar Sondre Lerche, only slightly less poetic and a little more homogenized. He just might seduce your girlfriend. He has a nice falsetto. He's a little too "packaged" for me. He might be just right for you. You should totally ask him out.

Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop
Young at Heart (Frank Sinatra)
[from Coffee Shop|buy]


Kaki King Sings/Strings

Can anyone who has heard this music really be a bad person? It might sound pretentious of Kaki King to present this very question as a song title on her new record Dreaming of Revenge. Or it might just sound like the truth.

The first ever press release I read about Kaki was in 2004, alongside her amazing sophomore (and first major label-fronted) effort Legs to Make Us Longer. It said something to the effect that she'd picked up her grandmother's warped old guitar at the tender age of 5 or 6 and, without lessons or ever having seen a guitar actually being played, taught herself to play. She didn't know that you're supposed to form "chords" with your left hand or even how she was supposed to hold the damned thing in the first place. The result of that process and those years between then and now is that Kaki King is one of the most unique and talented guitar players on the planet. Or maybe that's all rubbish. Or maybe it doesn't matter if it is or isn't.

Kaki sings a lot more now, a mostly welcome continuation that started in earnest with 2006's Until We Felt Red and sounds much more polished this time around. The subtle string harmonics, fret-slapping percussion, and dynamic song structures are still intact. The sublime soundtrack sensibility. The feeling of life that rides her fingers into the strings, vibrates down the neck and resonates through the body, quivering like a fish, hooked.

“There are some guitar players that are good and there are some guitar players that are really fucking good. And then there's Kaki King.” - Dave Grohl

Life Being What it Is
Can Anyone Who Has Heard This Music Really Be a Bad Person?
[from Dreaming of Revenge|buy]


Listening Assignments 3.10.08

1. Port O'Brien - I Woke Up Today - Hey you! Yes, you. Stomp your feet, clap your hands, and yell til you're hoarse. I want to see hot, stinging redness on those hands. I want you to sprain your ankle from stomping. And I want you to like it. [from All We Could Do Was Sing (out 5.13)|info]

2. The Lionheart Brothers - I Burn Myself on You - She is the sun. She is very hot. She will burn you. She is apparently also 2 x 2, which is repeated numerous times. Ah who cares what the song is about. It's spirited and full of sunlight. [from Dizzy Kiss|buy]

3. Little Brother - Away From Me - If you have friends and you want them to like you, put this on for them. Act nonchalant, like this is the pristine kind of hip hop you listen to all the time. Like it ain't no thang. [from The Listening|buy]

4. Brothers Johnson - I'll Be Good to You - I assure you this isn't Hall & Oates, despite the cheesy intro. Once these brothers start singing, you'll be glad you stayed. I think it would have been fun to be 25 when this kind of music was still being made. I might need to grow my afro out. [from Greatest Hits|buy]


The Desert Island Top 10 - Death Cab for Cutie

With Death Cab For Cutie releasing Narrow Stairs May 13th, a record seemingly destined to either pave or destroy their legacy, it's time to take a trip back in time. Or maybe forward in time. A trip to a certain desert island...#6.

Deathcab for Cutie - Transatlanticism

This is probably cliche at this point. Who am I kidding? Do I care? There's a reason DCFC are loved by a huge number of people between the ages of 15 and 35. It's not a fluke. They were good before they broke it big, they've been good since. If you think it's uncool to like Death Cab at this point, you're just a silly goose.

DCFC has evolved consistently since their inception in 1997, as all good artists should. Lucky for them, I've happened to enjoy each phase of metamorphosis. Fan retention and artistic growth are very difficult things to balance, I'd imagine. Sure, there are things I (and probably you) miss. The hollow bathroom-esque reverb and eccentric song structures from We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, the hooky lo-fi sound of Something About Airplanes and the early EPs up to the Photo Album LP. 2003's Plans marked the breaking point with much of the early fan base as more traditional framework of songs and melodies emerged with the band's major foray into popular music culture. The one thing completely constant throughout is Ben Gibbard's amazing introspection and matter-of-fact lyricism and gifted melodies. Honestly, that's more than enough for me.

Transatlanticism was the perfect storm. Released shortly after Gibbard's side project The Postal Service's Give Up had gone gold, it gave the now-hungry public something to devour. Musically, it couldn't have been better suited. "The New Year" has to be one of the best opening tracks of our generation, dispelling the hype of a fresh start on January One. The mid-album trio of "Tiny Vessels", "Transatlanticism" and "Passenger Seat" make up one of my favorite three-song sets in existence, as epic and quietly turbulent as a rolling ocean in the pitch dark of a cloudy night. "Tiny Vessels" especially gives me chills, brutally raw and cutting, playing out a scenario to which we all relate but would hesitate to admit. "This is the moment that you know that you told her that you loved her, but you don't". Damn, son. Damn. I can't tell you the number of times I've wept, completely broken by the musical pummeling and refrain of the title track. "I need you so much closer. So come on. Come on." Come on! Every fan has their favorites, for myriad reasons. This one's mine.

Tiny Vessels
A Lack of Color
[from Transatlanticism|buy]

#7 Aloha - Sugar
#8 Jonatha Brooke & The Story - Plumb
#9 Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
#10 Lovedrug - Pretend You're Alive


Once Again

Since Friday is always statistically the slowest day of the week for visitors (a lot of better things to be doing online or outside, I'd imagine), I'll just post this awesome video of Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova performing live on The Interface via AOL MUSIC.

Like whoa. That energy is seriously moving.

Click here for 3 more videos ("Once", "Falling Slowly" and the interview).


Ol' Milwaukee Imposters

What Made Milwaukee Famous is no longer just Schlitz...though this diverse rock outfit hails from the mecca of Austin, TX and not the colder frontier up north. What Doesn't Kill Us, one of 2008's most anticipated records, dropped on Tuesday and does not disappoint in the slightest. It shines.

From hook-soaked first single ("Sultan") to the straightforward acoustic and slide-guitar closer ("The Other Side"), this record is the result of a massive maturation. Trying to Never Catch Up was one of my favorites of 2006 (#14) but today, I can only listen to a few tracks regularly. I fell for it immediately due to its rampant pop sensibility and bouncy synth-pop undercurrent, but over time, most of the songs just sound to be almost there. It just took a little time. "As the Grief Goes On..." is the biggest benefactor of that maturation, starting simply enough but quickly going unexpected places, bringing your hands together with irresistible clap sequences, changing tempo, and building to a beautiful crescendo. This is focused, inspiring songwriting. Unlike their previous effort, this flows effortlessly and cohesively. All the songs belong here. We were meant to share this place together.

"Life is what you choose. Love is what you make."

And the Grief Goes On...
[from What Doesn't Kill Us|buy]


Phylactery Factory

The beautiful and uniquely-voiced Casey Dienel's White Hinterland released their beautiful and uniquely-voiced album yesterday. Uniquely titled as well. Phylactery Factory unearths the ancient Jewish term for sacred Hebrew verses held in two leather pouches on the body during prayers. A whole factory of them, in this case! I keep picturing an assembly line of sacred objects being built and furthered down the conveyor, finally emptying into an ever-growing pile at the end. Cheapens the whole thing doesn't it? Probably not the intent here, however. I'm guessing it alludes to the manufacturing of a collection of important keepsakes. Reminders of something important to you.

Anyway, naming origins aside, the album is very whole. It's cohesive and expansive, numerous songs topping 5 minutes and only one falling below 3:30 in length. It takes its time and flows where it wants to, around treetops and under creek bridges. The record's most rewarding and pretty songs are simply too long to host on this blog, for bandwidth purposes ("Hometown Hooray", "The Destruction of the Art Deco House").

1. West Coast Shows with two amazing acts: Bon Iver, Phosphorescent.
2. Yet another band to get a ton of gear stolen. Read about it here and donate easily w/ Paypal.

Hung on a Thin Thread
[from Phylactery Factory|buy]


We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day

I'm torn all over the place today. In a perfect world, I would have blogged at 12:30 and been out in Virginia Beach visiting my grandpa at the nursing home right now, feeding him chocolate and spoonfuls of slurpee. I'd then be writing in his memory book for the first time, alongside the entries my other family members have penned over the last few months. My dad's dad. Broadcaster, artist, crossword enthusiast, lover of the Jazz and the Blues. Possessor of one of my all-time favorite laughs, boomingly low and full of gravel and oatmeal. In a perfect world debilitating strokes don't happen. You don't get dropped at your nursing home and break your hip, which then refuses to heal and instead causes constant pain and saps your hope of ever walking again. In this perfect world, the hospital wouldn't lose your teeth, sabotaging your already thinly spread sense of pride. But this world is imperfect and even the strong can only hold on for so long. Birds are not meant to be caged. I love you grandpa.

Ida - Surely Gone
[from Lover's Prayers|buy]


Listening Assignments 3.3.08

1. Guillemots - Get Over It - This song is so full of gleeful bombast I can hardly stand it. This is possibly what George Michael would have sounded like if he were 24 in 2008. This chorus is epic. This. [from Red (out 3.24)|info]

2. Shearwater - Rooks - My buddy Alex will surely disagree with me, but somehow I've always gotten into John Meiburg's Shearwater just a little more than his bandmate Will Sheff's Okkervil River. It's most likely the constant reminders of Jason Molina and Songs:Ohia in the clean guitar tones and song structure. I also dig the smooth upper register vocals that swirl around like birds on an updraft. [from Rook (out 6.3)|info]

3. Ghosthustler - Only Me to Trust - Yet another step in reviving '80s techno-soul-pop. I say break out the defibrillators and smelling salts. My pelvis won't stop moving. [demo|myspace]

4. Hanne Hukkelberg - The Northwind - The sound you're hearing is your conscience saying you need to buy this album for $8.91 on iTunes immediately. You can listen to 4 of the 9 tracks on her myspace. It's all blustery and seductive and full of life. Completely beautiful. RIYL: Ane Brun, Julie London, Julie Doiron, Feist. [from Rykestrasse 68|iTunes or Amazon]


This American Life

Screw it. It's time for These United States to return to glory (Can I get an amen?). Their new album comes out Tuesday, a far cry in time from last February's first appearance on the assignments. "So High So Low So Wide So Long" makes a repeat appearance near the end of this one, only adding to the intensely likeable balance of the record.

Jesse Elliott's mostly-whispered vocals will become nestled between your ear and a pillow. Some songs will sound like hallelujahs, thanks to background choirs and at least one pipe organ. When all is said and done, your faith will be restored in These United States. To hell with recession.

"We'll burn this bridge when we're over it."

First Sight
Burn this Bridge
[from A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden|buy]